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Professor analyzes challenges facing journalism

| Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Richard G. Jones, Annenberg Director of the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, analyzed the state of journalism in the era of President Trump in the latest installment of Pizza, Pop and Politics on Tuesday.

Jones, a former editor and reporter at “The New York Times,” discussed the challenges facing journalism today, many of which have been prompted by the election of President Trump, who has taken a staunch position against the mainstream, established media. Journalism plays an important role in informing the public, Jones said.

“Journalism is so important,” he said. “It is, I believe, a form of public service to inform the decisions people make when they choose their elected officials, and the role that we as journalists play to, as they say, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Sarah Olson | The Observer
Professor Richard G. Jones discusses the challenges facing journalists, including erosion of trust in the media and accusations of “fake news.”

Though aspects such as ideas and facts are important components, what journalists really sell, Jones said, is credibility. However, especially following President Trump’s election, there has been an erosion of trust in consumers trusting the media, he said.

“This is a moment you should really be paying attention to and, I think, you want to be concerned about,” Jones said. “This erosion of trust in journalists, this erosion of trust in the facts, this erosion of trust in the truth.”

Jones said fake news has emerged as a recurring topic this year. President Trump addresses the term often ­— using it to promote the idea that you can’t believe everything you read from journalists and, Jones said, thus further contributing to the erosion of trust in the media. Jones said, however, that despite Trump’s definition, fake news really began as a term to describe news that is slanderous and doesn’t operate from a neutral position.

“This is the definition that the industry has used for years about what is fake news,” Jones said. “President Trump and other artists have taken that definition, and they define fake news as something else. Fake news is a story that others might consider wholly legitimate and newsworthy.”

Jones said there are seven forms of disinformation that are disseminated widely today, according to “First Draft News,” including satire or parody, false connection, misleading content, false context and the three more dangerous forms: fabricated content, imposter content and manipulated content.

One of the major changes that has occurred in the journalistic realm in terms of trust is blame attribution, Jones said. At a rally earlier this year, the president said journalists were “sick people,” according to a video Jones showed the audience. 

“We’ve gone from a moment where if you didn’t like the message, you just discounted it — that was once upon a time,” he said. “Now, it’s if you dislike the message, you attack the message and you attack the messenger, and you call them ‘sick people.’”

There are changes people can expect and hope to expect coming soon in journalism, Jones said. He said social media platforms need to be more responsible for monitoring their content, which could prevent the aforementioned categories of disinformation. Given the changing nature of journalism in the past year, Jones said, people can expect to see a greater emphasis on fact checkers, as well as the publication of full transcripts and raw footage.

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